In the long month of January, famous for ‘Blue Monday’ – reportedly the most depressing day of the year – we bucked the trend and embraced the new year cheer by starting the week with a bang!
On Monday 20th and Tuesday 21st January we held the TREE (Translational Research Exchange @ Exeter) seed corn incubator event in Torquay. The event was designed to bring together passionate research groups who have successfully been awarded seed corn funding – approx. £10,000 per group to fund a 6-month healthcare related research project (funded by the Wellcome Trust).
The projects sat within the over-arching themes of biology, biomedicine and clinical research, incorporating quantitative disciplines. Launching in this round were (including my simple summaries):
- Estimation of volume and morphological abnormalities in larval zebrafish using machine learning
Machine learning can help reduce the need for animal experimentation. This project is important as the zebrafish larvae are used to help develop new drugs and repurpose existing drugs in human health. The larvae are so small that precise measurement and abnormality detection is currently difficult.
- Understanding the cellular functions of MelLec, a novel receptor in anti-fungal immunity
Fungal infections kill more than 1.5 million people each year – more than malaria! How the immune system ‘sees’ (recognises) fungal organisms effects how we fight them – this project team have identified a completely new mechanism of recognition and want to understand it further.
- Modelling optical response of colloidal plasmonic nano-assemblies for use in cancer diagnosis
Gold nano-assemblies (groupings of nanoparticles) can act as a useful contrast agent when using light detection methods for cancer diagnosis. Nano-assemblies can absorb near-infrared light meaning harmful radiations and magnetic fields in cancer diagnosis can be avoided.
- A multiomic approach towards understanding anti-TNF treatment failure in patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Diseases such as Crohn’s disease affect over 115,000 people in the UK. Anti-TNF drugs (tumour necrosis factor) block a protein that causes inflammation in the gut, however, not everyone responds to these drugs and some people lose response. This will use the latest computational techniques to look at people’s genes, environment and the proteins they produce, to better understand what treatments will work for them and help develop new drugs.
- Identifying haemochromatosis patients from DXA images of bones and joints using deep learning methods
Mentioned just last week on ‘Call The Midwife’, haemochromatosis is an iron-overload disease which can have serious health implications later in life. Using machine learning to analyse x-rays from patients, features of haemochromatosis can be identified and utilised earlier to improve diagnosis
- Maintenance of Symmetry and Stability in Human Walking
This project focuses on the analysis of the stability of walking, rather than symmetry i.e. both left and right sides doing the same. Testing the theory that focusing on stability rather than symmetry will help in rehabilitation from injuries/illnesses, with the aim of improving physiotherapy for walking.
At the event, the project teams were given dedicated time to work on the finer details of their project plans, as well as specialist input from support staff in innovation, impact and business; research services; and public engagement. Representatives from our MAGPIEs (Modelling Advisory Group Public Involvement and Engagement) also attended, offering their unique perspectives to the research with a wealth of professional knowledge, personal interest and lived experience.
The project teams presented their research and future plans to each other, and the curiosity and collaborative nature of those attending really shone through (as did the actual sun which was a first for 2020)!
Researchers from a variety of specialist areas, and clinicians with patient-facing and surgical expertise joined forces on project teams which meant project applications/outcomes were a mixture of ground-breaking yet realistic in terms of potential front-line usage.
As the incubator event drew to a close and everyone was ready to officially launch their projects, one of the research fellows said this:
“We just want to get people better”
What better way to sum up the joint aims of this healthcare-focused group and their very complex but exciting tasks ahead!